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12 Best Science Competitions for High School Students

If you are passionate about science, then you already know it’s a competitive space to be in.

One way of challenging yourself and seeing how you stack up against high-caliber peers is to participate in competitions! This is also handy for your scholar profile - for instance, the Common App has a section dedicated to any awards, honors, or recognition that you may have received. If you do have something to share, it’ll boost your profile because admissions officers love to know whether you are exceptionally good at something.


We’ve shortlisted 12 of the best science competitions ranging from research-based challenges to hands-on projects, to prestigious olympiads conducted at a regional, national, and even international level.



Like most science/math olympiads, the USAPhO has a regional-level exam that you need to score very well on, in order to qualify for the national Olympiad. For the USAPhO, you need to first attempt the F=ma exam.


The syllabus for which includes mechanics, including kinematics, statics, Newton’s laws, momentum and energy, oscillations, orbital mechanics, fluids, and elementary data analysis, as well as calculus-based questions. Based on your scores from the F=ma exam, you qualify for the US Physics Olympiad, the country's most prestigious competition for all physics enthusiasts.


As part of the USAPhO syllabus, you are expected to be familiar with basic concepts of physics as taught in high school, as well as some advanced understanding of the subject, which can help you perform better in questions that require application-based thinking. Apart from MCQ-based questions, you are also required to attempt long-answer formats that you must support with figures and diagrams.


To familiarize yourself with the F=ma exam, its rules, procedure, syllabus, and any extra details, check out our guide on the F=MA exam!



The International Physics Olympiad (IPhO) had its first edition in 1967 and sees participation from thousands of students each year. It is also held in a different country every year.


In order to qualify for the International Physics Olympiad, you must first participate in regional/national-level physics tests, which may vary based on your country of residence. If you qualify as one of the top finalists, you are sent to represent your country at the IPhO!


Tip: You can check out sample questions from previous years here!


Dates: July 10 - 17, 2023

Application Deadline: To be announced.

Location: National Olympics Memorial Youth Center in Tokyo, Japan.

Prizes: Medals and certificates

Eligibility: All high school students can compete



A competition hosted only for high school students from all around the world, Physics Bowl tests your knowledge of physics, its basic concepts, applications in the real world, as well as modern physics. Each test is scored by the American Association of Physics Teachers. You are expected to answer 40 MCQ-based questions in 45 minutes and the exam is difficult, with the average score being about 40-50%. To qualify for Physics Bowl on an international level, you must first participate in school-level, regional-level, and national-level rounds. The competition has two further divisions, for first-year physics students, and second-year physics students.


Physics Bowl is one of the most prestigious and competitive physics competitions in the country, and prepping and participating in the challenge is sure to enhance your knowledge and analytical thinking skills!


Do note that you must pay $5 to register yourself for this challenge.


Tip: You can test yourself before the competition using these printable tests!

Dates: March 22 to April 14, 2023

Application Deadline: February 27, 2023!

Location: Varies according to your region, most school-level rounds are held under the supervision of your teachers at your school itself.

Prizes: Awards and certificates

Eligibility: All high school students can apply!



If you’re a high school student looking for a competitive experience in the field of mathematics, the AMC 10 and AMC 12 exams are opportunities you should keep an eye out for.


The syllabus of the AMC 10 covers mathematical concepts taught up until the 10th grade, while AMC 12 includes topics taught throughout high school, including trigonometry, advanced algebra, and advanced geometry, but excluding calculus.


Both the AMC 10 and AMC 12 are 25-question, 75-minute, multiple-choice examinations, and have two sets of questions, of which you can attempt either one (A or B).


Tip: You can find AMC 10/12 preparation materials here!

Dates:

AMC10/12 A - November 10, 2023

AMC10/12 B - November 16, 2022

Application Deadline: Deadline for AMC10/12 A - October 26, 2023

Deadline for AMC10/12 B - November 2, 2023

You can check out a complete date list here!

Location: In-person and online

Prizes: Certificates

Eligibility: All high schools students can participate



An olympiad just as, if not more, competitive and prestigious as the USABO, UNSCO, and IPhO, the USAMO is hosted annually for all high school students. It invites some of the brightest of competitors every year, and 6 top scorers are trained and sent to the International Math Olympiad to compete with teams from other countries. In order to qualify for the USAMO, you must be one of the top scorers at AMC 10, AMC 12, and AIME.


Since USAMO is an invitation-only proof-type examination, you are expected to have a strong hold on mathematical concepts such as topics in algebra, geometry, number theory, combinatorics, probability, and methods such as induction and proof by contradiction.


Since exposure to proofs in high school is limited, you may receive a lower score than expected, but this should not deter you from battling it out with fellow high school students!


The exam is split into two 4.5-hour sessions, with you being given 6 questions to solve, without using a calculator.



If you’re one of the top scorers at the USAMO, you are selected for the International Math Olympiad training camp, which usually involves rigorous preparation and testing to prepare the team that represents the US. You compete with over 20 countries at the IMO, and getting selected for the US Math Olympiad team is an extremely prestigious achievement.


You can take a look at the structure of the IMO, eligibility, sample questions, and more here.


Tip: Curious about the type of questions you'll face at the USAMO? Take a look!

Dates: March 21 - 22, 2023

Application Deadline: Dates vary for AMC 10, AMC 12, and AIME, you can check out a complete date list here

Location: In-person, finals to be held in Washington D.C.

Prizes: Certificates, awards

Eligibility: All high school students can participate



The U.S. National Chemistry Olympiad is considered one of, if not the most prestigious chemistry competition in the US. It invites 1000+ students every year and assesses students on their knowledge of broad chemistry topics, chemical theories, and models, as well as students' problem-solving skills in the lab.


The competition is spread across 4 tiers, with students first appearing for local/regional-level rounds, and moving up to the National Level, as well as the International Level. Here’s a little more information about the International Chemistry Olympiad -



The top 20 finalists from the National Round of the US National Chemistry Olympiad are invited to Study Camp, where finalists are prepared and tested, right before representing the country at an international level at the International Chemistry Olympiad, or IChO.


Tip: Here are a few excellent resources to help you prep for your Olympiad, school exams, or even entrance tests for college!


Dates:

  • March 1-31 Local Exam

  • April 15-23 National Exam

  • June 4-17 Study Camp

  • July 16-25 International Chemistry Olympiad

Application Deadline: Vary from state to state, applications usually close by March end.

Location: Vary for every local event

Prizes: Cash prizes of up to $300, recognition, and awards

Eligibility: Open to all US-based high-school students



Hosted by the Chemical Educational Foundation, You Be The Chemist challenges you on your knowledge of basic concepts in chemistry, as well as lab and reasoning skills. You first compete, in a team of 3-4 students, for a virtual Regional Challenge, that includes timed MCQs and short-answer questions.


You are also expected to create a video essay based on each year's theme. If selected for the state and national finals, you will compete with teams from other states for scholarships, interact with scholars and industry leaders, and build on your passion for chemistry.


Dates: The National Challenge will take place on June 13, 2023, deadline for the video submission is on March 6, 2023

Application Deadline: January 31, 2023

Location: The National Challenge will take place in Houston, TX. Regional and state-wise locations may vary. There is also a virtual participation option.

Prizes: Scholarships and awards

Eligibility: All high school students based in the USA are eligible for this challenge



If you're passionate about studying Biology in college, the USA Biolympiad is one challenge you should sign up for. A highly coveted, highly competitive olympiad with over 10,000 participants each year, the Biolympiad challenges you with activities, and quizzes (you can check out a complete list of topics here). As a Biolympiad participant, you must first pass the first two rounds, which include timed online exams.


After these rounds, 20 finalists are selected for a residential training program (at Marymount University) in advanced biological concepts and lab skills.



After the National Camp, the top 4 USABO finalists are also trained to represent the USA at an international level, at the International Biology Olympiad (IBO) in the UAE, and compete against teams from 20 countries.


Dates:

  • February 2 - Online Open Exam (OE)

  • March 16 - Semifinal Exam

  • June 2 - 16 - National Finals

Application Deadline: November 18, 2022

Location: Virtual

Prizes: Medals, awards

Eligibility: All high school students who are US citizens can sign up for the USABO


Tip: Check out a compiled set of biology and STEM resources by the Centre for Excellence in Education here!



A program by the Center for Science Teaching & Learning (CSTL), the NSPC Health Science Competition invites experimentation and research on any innovation in the field of medicine.


Open to high-school students, its competition design is a lot like Regeneron's ISEF and invites some of the brightest minds from across the country to participate in teams of up to 3 members. For the first round, you must create a website that covers your research, and results, as well as a discussion and abstract via a presentation, video, digital poster board, etc.


Once your entry is scored by medical professionals and you proceed to Round 2, you will present your research to a panel of judges.


NSPC invites entries across categories such as Behavioral Sciences, Microbiology/Genetics, Medicine/Health, Biochemistry/Biophysics Category, and Computational Biology. Here are submissions from past winners!


Dates: May 18, 2023 (based on last year's timetable)

Application Deadline: March 18, 2023 (based on last year's timetable)

Location: Round 1 is hosted virtually, while the location for Round 2 is yet to be announced.

Prizes: Cash prizes of up to $80,000

Eligibility: Any high school student (or team of students) from Nassau or Suffolk can participate, with a $30 registration fee.



Organized since 1991, the National Science Bowl is a coveted, highly competitive competition that aims to encourage students to excel in math and science. The Bowl sees 1000+ students participate every year, and tests students on their knowledge of physics, energy, Earth science, chemistry, biology, and math.


To participate, you must participate in regional rounds, which you can look for here. In teams of 4-5 students, you must be the regional winner to be invited to the Science Bowl Finals in Washington D.C.


Dates: Regional Events dates may vary, National Finals are held from April 27 - May 1, 2023.

Application Deadline: Registrations close 3 weeks before the date of the regional event.

Location: Varies from state to state, finals are held in Washington D.C.

Prizes: Cash prizes, scholarships

Eligibility: All high school students can participate



One of the most popular competitions amongst budding young scientists, the Regeneron ISEF is the world's biggest pre-college STEM competition.


It invites entries from thousands of high-school students every year. To participate at Regeneron ISEF, you first must participate in a local or regional-level fair, and based on your performance, will then be shortlisted for the ISEF program that calls finalists from all over the country to present their innovations, research, etc. in a hybrid format. ISEF is extremely competitive, with a 2-5% acceptance rate at qualifying fairs.


You participate by presenting original research work that has been going on for no longer than 12 months - be it in the fields of organic, inorganic, material science, etc. Some subcategories you can present your research in Physics for include atomic, molecular, and optical physics, astronomy and cosmology, biological physics, condensed matter and materials, mechanics, and nuclear and particle physics.


Working on physics-related research projects and being a shortlisted finalist to present at ISEF is a prestigious opportunity. The ISEF also provides a great way for you to build a network with like-minded, passionate young students such as yourself.


Tip: We’ve covered everything you need to know about ISEF in this guide!


Dates: Local and regional events take place throughout the year but usually conclude by April. The ISEF Fair will take place from May 13-19, 2023.

Application Deadline: Varies from state to state

Location: Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center - Dallas, Texas

Prizes: Special Awards such as tuition scholarships, summer internships, and scientific trips, as well as cash prizes of up to $75,000

Eligibility: All high-school students with a strong passion for research in science, math, and engineering can apply



If you've carried out independent scientific research and are looking for a platform that helps you develop your research, presentation, and analytical skills, you should consider applying for the Regeneron STS, one of the country's most prestigious science competitions.


STS receives nearly 1900+ applications each year and shortlists about 40 of them to the STS Final in Washington D.C. for a public presentation. Getting shortlisted for this presentation is nothing short of public recognition of your potential when it comes to research in chemistry and is an excellent addition to your resume.


If you're passionate about a career in research in the field of physics, STS is an excellent opportunity for you - winners receive support and sponsorship for future research in as well.


Dates: June 1 - March 14, 2023

Application Deadline: November 9, 2022

Location: Virtual

Prizes: Cash prizes of up to $250,000, and all finalists are awarded a trip to Washington D.C., and are taken on scientific field trips, mentorship sessions, and more as part of their prep program.

Eligibility: All US-based high school seniors can apply



A program that looks for the brightest minds in STEM to support and guide, the Davidson Institute hosts its annual Fellows program for high-achieving students. Winning teams are awarded prizes of up to $50,000 to support future research work or academic advancement. To apply for the Fellows Program, you must submit original work that covers any of the following criteria -

  • an exceptionally creative application of existing knowledge

  • a new idea with high impact

  • an innovative solution with broad-range implications

  • an important advancement that can be replicated and built upon

  • an interdisciplinary discovery

  • a prodigious performance

  • another demonstration of extraordinary accomplishment

You must enter in teams of not more than 2 students, and submit work that is at, or close to, college graduate level in terms of depth, understanding of the subject, and quality of presentation.


Submission Deadline: February 15, 2023

Location: Virtual

Prizes: Cash prizes of up to $50,000, the title of a 'Davidson Fellow'.

Eligibility: All high school students under the age of 18, who reside in the US can apply


Tip: The program invites applications across various subjects, you can check out guidelines for science submissions here.


You can also check out competitions such as the AAN Neuroscience Research Prize, National Science Olympiad (which is less subject-specific than the ones we’ve covered in this blog), as well as STEM programs such as MIT THINK Scholars. If you’re looking for more intensive, subject specific competitions for STEM, here’s a comprehensive list of competitions specifically hosted for biology, physics, and chemistry!


Lumiere Research Scholar Program


If you are interested in doing university-level research in science/STEM subjects then consider applying to the Lumiere Research Scholar Program, a selective online high school program for students that I founded with researchers at Harvard and Oxford. Last year, we had over 2100 students apply for 500 spots in the program! You can find the application form here.


Also check out the Lumiere Research inclusion Foundation, a non-profit research program for talented, low-income students.


Stephen is one of the founders of Lumiere and a Harvard College graduate. He founded Lumiere as a PhD student at Harvard Business School. Lumiere is a selective research program where students work 1-1 with a research mentor to develop an independent research paper.

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